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When Romantics Collide: Finn, Sorkin, & Dana’s Panties


Dana in white, fully-clothed.

The final season of The Sopranos is casting a long shadow in my life these days. I know, this is a music site—we’ll get to that. But as I write this, there are merely two episodes left in the greatest television show ever, and I’m pretty deeply engrossed. Anyone familiar with the show knows that music has always played a huge role, and after a recent episode used Van Morrison’s cover of “Comfortably Numb” to set-up maybe the series’ most singularly breathtaking moment, I was ready to dig deep into why the song choice was absolute perfection…

…until I discovered that those crafty Sopranos-deconstructors at Slate beat me to it. (And did a far better job than I ever would have; I mean, the guy brings Hitler’s secret bunker into his analysis—no way I would’ve dug that deep.) But it led me to ask: what is my favorite moment of pop song/TV show symbiosis?

I could easily come up with a list of about two dozen moments. So I promise that: a) I won’t list all of them here, and b) I’ll continue to revisit this topic in the future—and likely have many arguments with myself. Where then, do I begin?

I begin with Dana’s panties, although you’ll have to stick around for the details. I’d considered beginning other places. Miami Vice’s dark, pastel moments would have been good place to start. Specifically Vice’s signature moment: Phil Collins’ “In the Air Tonight” playing numbly beneath the scenes of Crockett and Tubbs speeding desperately through the streets of late-night Miami. I also thought about beginning with David Lynch’s Twin Peaks—those super-freaky sequences that combined Julee Cruise’s ghostly, nightingale voice, and the inexplicably harrowing images of a red curtain.

And Dana’s panties were almost trumped by my memory of listening to the theme from M*A*S*H, “Suicide is Painless,” play at the end of that final episode as Hawkeye’s helicopter rises into the sky above B.J.’s stone-spelled “Goodbye.” I was 12 when it first aired and had to go to bed before the episode ended, but we had just gotten the coolest thing ever: a VHS recorder. So I taped the last hour and woke up at 4:30 a.m. to watch it in the dark before school. It was near dawn when the song started playing—this eerie, dreamy instrumental theme that echoed back to my earliest memories of TV: hidden in the kitchen shadows after sneaking out of bed, catching glimpses of army green canvas in a scrubby landscape while my parents laughed at things that didn’t actually seem funny, but were nonetheless captivating in their otherworldly feeling of adult cleverness. So when that song played in those early morning hours as I watched the characters say goodbye, the whole world froze for a moment in a state of ideal melancholy. Whenever I hear that song now, the moment comes right back—perfectly permafrozen, just as fresh as the first time I saw it. Nonetheless, that isn’t what leapt to mind when I asked: what is my favorite moment of pop song/TV show symbiosis?

No, when I asked myself the question, the first two words that popped into mind weren’t Miami Vice, Twin Peaks, or Goodbye Hawkeye, they were: Dana’s panties. The song was “She Will Have Her Way” by hook-master Neil Finn. The show was Aaron Sorkin’s Sports Night, a behind-the-scenes series about producing a nightly sportscast—an underdog version of ESPN. Sports Night, which ran from 1998–2000, falls into that “love/hate” category. For some, Sorkin’s trademark walk-and-talk banter and his affection for scripting the “big moment” is just too much. For others, like myself, there is nothing quite like the giddy, rhythmic, literate pleasures of the heavily-allusive dialogue that is the heart of Sorkin’s writing. Finn can arouse a similar conflict: some feel they’re being manipulated by a hook-heavy huckster, while others, like myself, are happy to soak in his gorgeous, melodic, pop-song craftsmanship.

Most of all, they’re both Romantics—in the literary sense, not the Harlequin novel sense. They both love that big romantic moment—the epiphany, the transcendent, ephemeral instant of intense being—and showcase it in their work. When they hit their mark, their best creations can induce that buzzy endorphin-rush that pop songs and pop TV specialize in. And when they hit their mark together, at the same time, they created a truly sublime moment of pop song/TV show symbiosis. This moment of mutually-timed pleasure might be the apex in a certain sexual analogy, one that I’m far too shy and Midwestern to reference here. Which brings me back to Dana’s panties.

In a scene (from a season 2 episode, “Louise Revisited”) that is far less salacious than you are probably imagining, a pair of black panties are pulled from a desk drawer at the exact moment that “She Will Have Her Way” begins to play. The panties are not evidence of anything that has happened, but a suggestion of what might be possible. The moment is a devious, blood-pumping culmination of a long-simmering, open flirtation between two characters who were the heart of the series: Dana (Felicity Huffman) and Casey (Peter Krause). It was Huffman and Krause before her Oscar nomination and his star-turn in Six Feet Under, but their charisma was obvious on Sports Night. It was Sorkin before West Wing, and he was absolutely bringing it with every episode he wrote for Sports Night’s two glorious seasons. It was Finn after Crowded House, solo for the first time, and making me swoon again with the delirious “She Will Have Her Way.” And together they authored the perfect pop music/TV moment.

The moment is, of course, best consumed in its native setting, after having experienced a full season of Dana/Casey advances and retreats. I hesitate to even include the out-of-context YouTube clip, because it simply doesn’t do it justice (and it cuts off the very end of the scene). But it’s my duty to bring these things to you. And I’m nothing if not your dutiful pop culture half-Filipino house boy. So here, at last, are Dana’s panties:

From → Cut-Out Bin

One Comment
  1. shacker permalink

    Neil Finn… there’s a name I haven’t heard for 25 years! In the early 80s I bought a copy of “True Colors” from Cheap Thrills, took it home, pulled the LP from its sleeve, and watched the light dance prismatically off the laser-etched vinyl. I’ve never seen another LP use that etching technique, which is surprising unless the process was prohibitively expensive (but more expensive than picture discs, which there have been hundreds, if not thousands of?) I did love the record at the time for more than the dazzling vinyl – it’s a tight period example of pop/new wave at its apex – but I had assumed Finn had sunk beneath the waters of the 80s along with Styx and 38 Special (not that I’m comparing them). Not that any of that has anything whatsoever to do with television – just reminiscing out loud.

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